HSLDA Website: hslda.org


What is the Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards (“Common Core”) are two sets of K–12 academic standards that outline what students are expected to learn in English language arts and mathematics each year from kindergarten through high school. The goal of this academic checklist is not the acquisition of child-oriented skills such as literacy, proficiency, or increased graduation rates, nor does it embrace the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. Rather the Common Core seeks to achieve the utilitarian purpose of making students “college- and career- ready.”1 “College and career readiness” has never been defined by the authors of the standards, notes Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee who refused to sign off on the standards.2 The motivating force behind the Common Core is not the standards themselves, but the belief that a nationalized, uniform system is the best method of education. The Common Core was written by the National Governors Association (NGA)—an organization of governors, their head staff members, and policy makers—and the Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO).

Within two months of their release on June 2, 2010, the Common Core State Standards had been adopted by 28 states that promised to implement the standards by fall 2013 and replace their current state assessments with tests aligned to the Common Core by the 2014–15 school year.3 The states also agreed to begin collecting student data from preschool through workforce, an element NGA considered essential.4 By the end of 2010, a total of 41 states and the District of Columbia had agreed to implement the Common Core. Five more states, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity adopted the Common Core in 2011.5

Proponents praised this rapid adoption, asserting that Common Core will bolster state standards that plummeted as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). However, some education experts were shocked. “Deciding so quickly, to me, is irresponsible,” Rutgers professor Joseph Rosenstein commented. “It was like it was a done deal, a foregone conclusion.”6

There is no academic evidence that would suggest the superiority of the Common Core to current state standards; thus, academic research did not drive its adoption. Moreover, independent evaluations of the standards have strongly questioned the academic stature of the package of goals.7 Rather, enticed by the millions of federal dollars promised to states that would quickly adopt all of its provisions, cash-strapped states rashly committed to the Common Core. Though the federal government is prohibited by law from mandating the content of curriculum or assessments, the Department of Education successfully used dollars taken from American taxpayers to drive the implementation of common standards and assessments across the United States.8

The Common Core should be understood as the culmination of a movement that has simmered in America for the past decade to adopt consistent national academic standards and assessments and build bigger student databases. Two trails can be traced to the origin of the Common Core: the trail left by private organizations and the trail left by the federal government.

Long known for an aggressive education reform agenda focused on collection of detailed student data, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured millions of dollars into the creation of the Common Core, beginning in 2007 when the foundation gave $27 million to NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve to help develop and advance common state standards and student data systems.9 (Achieve is an organization founded in 1996 by a group of governors and corporate leaders to work for standards-based education reform across the states.) The result of this funding was a study called Benchmarking for Success. The Gates Foundation continued its involvement in education policy by giving over $12 million to CCSSO in 2009 and $2.1 million to NGA from 2009 to 2011.10 NGA and CCSSO partnered in June 2009 to begin writing the Common Core, and Achieve evaluated and promoted the standards.11

These organizations also spurred the involvement of the federal government in pushing Common Core. In December 2008, as Barack Obama was preparing to take office as president, he received a copy of Benchmarking for Success, which emphasizes the federal government’s role in helping promote “a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grade K–12” and in streamlining state assessments.12 In March 2009, President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, expressed the administration’s commitment to helping “states develop and implement rigorous, college-ready academic achievement standards along with improved assessments.”13 And the Obama administration would make good on this promise by funding and overseeing the development of the assessment tests that states have promised to implement by 2014–15.

Today, 37 states are committed to the Common Core: two sets of mediocre academic standards intended to stretch across the nation; two standardized assessments funded and reviewed by the federal government; and detailed data systems that will trace students from preschool to the workforce.

Document updated July 21, 2014

1 “Mission Statement,” Common Core Standards State Initiative, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/ .

2 Sandra Stotsky, “Testimony for a Hearing on House Bill No. 2923” (Texas Legislature), accessed June 8, 2013, http://coehp.uark.edu/colleague/9863.php .

3 See “In the States,” Common Core Standards State Initiative, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states .

4 Tabitha Grossman, Ryan Reyna, and Stephanie Shipton, Realizing the Potential: How Governors Can Lead Effective Implementation of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association, 2011), 10, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1110CCSSIIMPLEMENTATIONGUIDE.PDF .

5 Ibid., 3.

6 Catherine Gewertz, “State Adoptions of Common Standards Steam Ahead,” Education Week (July 14, 2010).

7 Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert, “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers,” A Pioneer Institute White Paper no. 81 (February 2012): 7.

8 Ibid., 1.

9 Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, “Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America,” A Pioneer Institute White Paper no. 87 (May 2012): 4.

10 See Council of Chief State School Officers, Financial Statements: Years Ended June 30, 2010 and 2009 (McLean: Goodman and Company, 2010), 11, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2010/financials/CCSSO_financial_statements_FY2010.pdf ; “Awarded Grants,” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#q/k=national%20governors%20association .

11 “Achieve,” Achieve, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.achieve.org/files/About%20AchieveADP-Apr2012.pdf . The College Board and ACT were also key advisors in the development of the Common Core; see “Frequently Asked Questions,” Common Core Standards State Initiative, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions and ACT, The Alignment of Common Core and ACT’s College and Career Readiness System (ACT, June 2010).

12 Craig D. Jerald, Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education (NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve, 2008), 24, 31, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.achieve.org/files/BenchmarkingforSuccess.pdf .

13 Arne Duncan, “Secretary Arne Duncan Testifies before the House Budget Committee on the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request,” accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/secretary-arne-duncan-testifies-house-budget-committee-fiscal-year-2010-budget-request

HSLDA Synopsis of the Common Core Standards…


Dear HSLDA members and friends,

David Coleman, president of the College Board, is the acknowledged principal leader of the effort to create and implement the Common Core. And he wanted to talk with me about Home School Legal Defense Association’s position. I was very willing.

We spent about an hour together on the phone. The conversation was very cordial. Both of us showed that we truly listened to and heard the other person’s position. And both of us stood strongly on our principles and core positions. I was really glad that we talked.

His initial presentation walked me through several features of the Common Core. From a pedagogical perspective, there are clearly some good ideas contained in it. When it came time for me to respond, I began with a story. I once testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee when Senator Joseph Biden was chairing a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee. Before I began, Biden asked me, “I have a question for you. Is it your idea to force everyone to homeschool?”

Visit HSLDA’s new Common Core website: www.hslda.org/commoncore/

I told Senator Biden that such an idea would be anathema to HSLDA and to me. We simply want to protect the right to choose homeschooling for those who wish to pursue it.

I told Mr. Coleman that the point of the story was this: Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.

To his credit, Mr. Coleman noted that he was not acting in a vacuum. There are centralized mandates for education in play virtually everywhere. And many of them have very marginal educational utility. I agreed with his assessment of many current centralized standards.

However, my response was that the solution is not a national set of standards, but allowing each state to develop its own standards. Competing standards from all 50 states would be likely to create more innovations—although my clear preference is to do away with all forms of centralized government standards. (I believe that public schools should form their own local standards.)

When he asked me why I thought that the Common Core was worse than other standards, I indicated that one of my chief concerns was the creation of the database that would track students throughout their educational career.

His answer surprised me. He didn’t like the database all that well. It was not originally part of the Common Core, but other people have seized the opportunity to make a centralized data collection effort through the implementation of the Common Core.

We talked about many other details, but these were some of the most important.

I walked away wishing that more political conversations could be like this one. Polite. Professional. Helpful.

He acknowledged some good ideas that I shared, and I did the same.

I strongly oppose the Common Core for reasons I shared with him in detail. But I want to do my best to avoid demonizing those who promote it. He is motivated by what he truly thinks is best for education and for kids. I think his plans are unwise, especially when coupled with government coercion. But I will not question either his motives or his character.

We came away believing that each of us is acting in good faith. I think we make better policy decisions when we avoid the invective and simply look to the substance. That much, David Coleman and I have in common.

-Mike Farris